Nothing is more frustrating than having a great planning session and coming up with a breakthrough plan for the quarter, only to have the team fall short on their targets. This shortcoming not only means lost time and increased risks, it's hard on team morale, too.
Left unaddressed, this accountability problem slows down the team considerably until people leave or management steps in and shakes things up. To break out of this cycle, there is one aspect I focus on that helps rebuild the team's planning and execution capability and morale.
That one thing is the weekly planning meeting.
The weekly planning meeting is when the team looks at its goals and their individual commitments to the team and figure out what they are going to focus on and accomplish over the next seven days. Seven days is the core work cycle of the team and all it takes to rebuild a team's momentum.
The agenda for the weekly meeting is simply five questions:
1. What did you commit to for this week?
2. What did you accomplish?
3. What did you learn?
4. What do you commit to for next week?
5. What is your action plan?
For the first two or three weeks, I just ask the questions. I don't probe too deeply, I just make sure I'm clear on what they are committing to, what they are learning, and what actions they are planning. My goal is to understand the situation and the dynamic. There are a several common patterns I find within these meetings; all of which have simple fixes.
1. Focusing on too many priorities in a week.
This happens when people feel pressure and are desperate for results. They hope that committing to lots of work will offset the lack of delivery. Instead, I try to take the pressure off and just have them focus on a few simple, but highly important, tasks. Once they have success and confidence, we can rebuild to a reasonable volume.
2. Focusing on something other than a key priority.
This can happen because there is an obvious obstacle they don't know how to address or a fear of tackling something highly important and then failing. By refocusing on the main thing, breaking it down to simple set of tasks, and focusing on learning something, rather than finishing something by the end of the week, we can begin to make progress in the right direction.
3. Not having a clear sense of the goal.
Too often people make commitments that are vague and fluffy. Which means that they don't really know what they are going to do or work on which in return means they can't deliver at the end of the week. One of my favorite terms is definition of done. What am I going to see with my eyes or hold in my hands at the end of the week? Only after answering this question can we ask if that work product really helps us advance towards our goal.
4. Not planning time to do the work
This happens when someone hopes to find the time during the week to do the work they committed to, but then gets overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks. In simple cases, I help them set aside time to dedicate to the work. In severe cases, we focus on rebuilding their daily schedule and delegation plan to free them up to make time to work on weekly priority commitments.
5. Starting too late in the week.
This is a common case of procrastination. They push off the work until day five or six and then get caught waiting for someone else to reply or get back to them before they can finish. Here, I suggest the "eat the frog" approach to task management, whereby you start each day tackling the hardest, least fun task each morning so that you can get it off your plate and move on to something easier and more fun.
6. Spinning wheels on an obstacle.
Sometimes people report that they hit an obstacle quickly and then struggled with it for the remainder of the week or just shut down and stopped working. My best advice in these cases is that when you get stuck, raise your hand. One of the main reasons most businesses work in teams is so that you have multiple brains on a problem. By suffering in silence, you're undermining your team. Instead, talk to someone and get some help.
While other situations do come up, these are by far the most common, and the most addressable. Usually after a few weeks of course correction and rebuilding, the team gets back into a productive grove. And, over time, by focusing on good, realistic habits and continuously improving on process, a team can overcome and makeup for lost ground.